An Essay on Two Indo-European Representations of Sovereignty

By Georges Dumézil

Critical Edition with a New Introduction by Stuart Elden
Afterword by Veena Das
Translated by Derek Coltman

Georges Dumézil’s fascination with the myths and histories of India, Rome, Scandinavia, and the Celts yielded an idea that became his most influential scholarly legacy: the tripartite hypothesis, which divides Indo-European societal functions into three classes: the sacred sovereign, the warrior, and the producer. Mitra-Varuna, originally published in 1940, concentrates on the first function, that of sovereignty. Dumézil identifies two types of rulers, the first judicial and worldly, the second divine and supernatural. These figures, both priestly, are oppositional but complementary. The title nods to these roles, referring to the gods Mitra, a rational mediator, and Varuna, an awesome religious figure.

Stuart Elden’s critical edition, based on the 1988 English translation by Derek Coltman, identifies variations between the first and second French editions and completes—and in places corrects—Dumézil’s references. The editor’s detailed introduction situates Mitra-Varuna within Dumézil’s career, outlines how his treatment of its themes developed over time, and relates the book to the political controversy around his ideas. Two new appendices contain passages that did not appear in the second French edition.



Stuart Elden is a Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick, UK. He is the author of several books, including Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (2009) and a four-volume intellectual history of Michel Foucault’s entire career (2016, 2017, 2021, 2023).

Veena Das is a Research Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. Among her many publications are Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary (2006), Textures of the Ordinary: Doing Anthropology After Wittgenstein (2020), and Slum Acts (2021).

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